California schools chief wants districts to ignore immigration status as ‘safe havens’

Article Sacramento BeeBy Kevin Yamamura

State education chief Tom Torlakson on Wednesday urged school districts to declare themselves “safe havens” that avoid seeking the immigration status of students and suggested that they follow the lead of the Sacramento City Unified School District.

The state superintendent of public instruction issued a letter late Wednesday asking districts not to rely on “documents related to immigration status” when enrolling students. The former Democratic legislator did not mention by name President-elect Donald Trump, who during his campaign promised strict immigration enforcement, but he referenced the election’s outcome.

“Unfortunately, since the presidential election, reports of bullying, harassment, and intimidation of K-12 students based on immigration status, religious, or ethnic identification are on the rise,” he wrote.

The Sacramento City Unified School District this month declared its schools “safe havens” that protect students against deportation and hate speech. In a three-page resolution that Torlakson used as an example for districts across California, Sacramento City Unified specified that immigration officials cannot enter campuses without written permission of the superintendent and that the district will restrict sharing of student files that could help determine the legal status of students.

The Sacramento district, which serves 43,000 students, specifically cited “intolerant rhetoric made over the course of the 2016 presidential race” as a reason for its safe haven resolution.

“Our schools are not and will not become an arm of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE),” Torlakson said in his letter. “Instead, they will remain safe places for learning and teaching for all students, regardless of immigration status.”

Torlakson said that state and federal laws prohibit districts from disclosing student information to law enforcement without parental consent, a court order or a subpoena. He said that districts have wide latitude in which documents they require for enrollment, and that they can use baptismal records or a parental affidavit to determine a student’s age.